Bears

Pearlman says Payton book is misunderstood

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Pearlman says Payton book is misunderstood

Friday, Sept. 30, 2011
Posted: 10:07 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
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It is not one of those things on which folks will be neutral. They arent now, by any means. And neither is the author.

Jeff Pearlman, author of the soon-to-be-released biography Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, said on The Dan Patrick Show on Comcast SportsNet Friday that he understands the reaction to the excerpt of the book, which sets the book up as another sleazy expose.

Its not. And any feeling that his goal was to savage Paytons legacy and to just make a buck could not be further from the truth.

I love Walter Payton, Pearlman said. I love him a million times more now, understanding him as much as I feel like I do, than when I was just some guy, a fan reading love notes to him.

Not surprisingly, the reaction to the book (which really is just a reaction to the excerpt in Sports Illustrated, since the book wont be out until Oct. 4) rocked Pearlman.

Its been pretty fierce, Pearlman said. Ive never had a backlash like this in my life. It hasnt been the most fun day in my life.

Pearlman spent almost three years working on the book, doing nearly 700 interviews.

It is so not a lets slam Walter Payton or lets mock Walter Payton book, Pearlman insisted. Its been reduced, without anyone having read the book, to a Kitty Kelly sleaze job.

The problem now is that first impressions are difficult if not impossible to change, and the first impression created here is one of muck raking, because of what Sports Illustrated elected to excerpt in its current issue.

That involves, among other things, his depression that began after his retirement and part in the failed bid to buy the St. Louis NFL expansion franchise.

When you decide to write a definitive biography of someones life, that means youre taking everything, Pearlman said. Youre writing the good and the bad. It doesnt mean youre writing just the slap on the back, that everythings great.

The truth of the matter is that after he was done playing, he felt physically battered, he felt very much alone, his marriage was in shambles, he was depressed and sad. Would that have been the part I would have preferred excerpted in the beginning? Probably not.

But it was a true part of his life.

Family matters

The charges that the book had truths and untruths and did not have cooperation from Paytons family befuddles Pearlman. He had long interviews with Paytons son Jarrett, daughter Brittany, brother Eddie as well as Paytons mother.

The whole idea that I did not get family cooperation, Pearlman said, is just not true.

Pearlman has had hostile emails and other reactions, but no death threats.

This was really a labor of love for me, Pearlman said. I love Walter Payton. I love his life more now, actually understanding it and knowing it.

What he does not understand is the sentiment that if someone is beloved, we should never their flaws or shortcomings or setbacks or troubles that it is somehow sacrilege to say that a hero went through some of the same troubles that normal people do.

I do not feel that way, Pearlman said, citing a number of great biographies that dealt with both the good and bad in the life of the famous.

Bears fans will never take him off his pedestal, as Patrick pointed out. And Pearlman did not have an idea what the statute of limitations is or should be for writing this kind of biography.

But I guarantee you, when people read the full book, all 460 pages and not just the five in Sports Illustrated, theyll consider it a very detailed and all-encompassing and very fair look at his life.

There is more to Sweetness than the marital or drug or other issues. You will find out where the nickname Sweetness actually came from. Youll find out how old Payton actually was, and why it was different from the published age. And how he came to have a hamburgers-for-life card at Wendys.

Understandable slide

Paytons troubled post-football life was not a complete mystery to Pearlman. I think the adjustment for all athletes from super-duper star to just being asked about being a star, Pearlman said. Youre reminded of what you cant do anymore.... I really do find that sort of haunting.

Pearlman in fact did interview Payton, in 1999 not long after the press conference announcing his illness. He went to Paytons office and encountered an older gentleman in the outer office.

Im here to see Walter Payton, Pearlman said to the man.

Its nice to meet you, said the man.

The man was Payton. Pearlman did not recognize him.

I just hope people give the book a chance, Pearlman said.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.